Nigeria is ready to open negotiations with genuine Boko Haram leaders for the release of the Chibok girls kidnapped in April 2014, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Saturday.
Close to 300 Nigerian girls who were abducted in the town of Chibok in Borno state as they prepared to take their final exams at a secondary school have remained in captivity for at least 865 days.
President Buhari declared during his inaugural speech in May last year that the war against Boko Haram would not be considered won if the Chibok girls were not rescued and alive.
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But as months passed, the President admitted he did not know where the girls were and had not established any contacts with genuine Boko Haram members.
Mr. Buhari declared he was ready to negotiate with the right group. But more than a year in office nothing has happened.
About two weeks ago, Boko Haram released a video, showing some Chibok girls still alive and claiming that some had died due to bombing by the Nigerian Air Force.
But with no reaction from the Presidency, activists and parents of the girls stormed the prudential palace this week to demand actions from Mr. Buhari but were turned back by security operatives.
The action triggered outrage and condemnation, with many saying that Mr. Buhari was not different from Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, the former Nigerian leader Mr. Buhari defeated last year.
But in an interview with journalists in Nairobi, Kenya at the weekend, President Buhari said the Nigerian government was ready to dialogue with “bonafide leaders of the terror group who know the whereabouts of the girls”.
‘‘I have made a couple of comments on the Chibok girls and it seems to me that much of it has been politicised.
‘‘What we said is that the government which I preside over is prepared to talk to bonafide leaders of Boko Haram,” the President said, according to his spokesman, Mr. Garba Shehu.
‘‘If they do not want to talk to us directly, let them pick an internationally recognised Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), convince them that they are holding the girls and that they want Nigeria to release a number of Boko Haram leaders in detention, which they are supposed to know.
‘‘If they do it through the ‘modified leadership’ of Boko Haram and they talk with an internationally recognised NGO then Nigeria will be prepared to discuss for their release,’’ he said.
President Buhari, who spoke to the media on the margins of the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI), warned that the Federal Government will not waste time and resources with “doubtful sources’’ claiming to know the whereabouts of the girls.
‘‘We want those girls out and safe. The faster we can recover them and hand them over to their parents, the better for us.’’
The President maintained that the terror group, which pledged allegiance to ISIS, has been largely decimated by the gallant Nigerian military with the support of immediate neighbours from Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin.
‘‘Some of the information about the division in Boko Haram is already in the press and I have read in the papers about the conflict in their leadership.
‘‘The person known in Nigeria as their leader, we understand was edged out and the Nigerian members of Boko Haram started turning themselves to the Nigerian military.
‘‘We learnt that in an air strike by the Nigeria Air Force he was wounded. Indeed their top hierarchy and lower cadre have a problem and we know this because when we came into power, they were holding 14 out of the 774 local governments in Nigeria. But now they are not holding any territory and they have split to small groups attacking soft targets.
On the militancy in the Niger Delta region, the President said the Federal Government is also open to dialogue to resolve all contending issues in the area.
‘‘We do not believe that they (the militants) have announced ceasefire. We are trying to understand them more. Who are their leaders and which areas do they operate and other relevant issues,’’ he said.